I have been listening to some podcasts recently and the debate of the merits of digital vs. film keep popping up in the conversations. I honestly don’t think this is even a topic of discussion. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Both have hidden costs and expenses. And both are embraced by many as the only acceptable way to capture an image.
I see it very similar to the way that Ken Rockwell discusses it in his post about the subject.
Neither is better on an absolute basis. The choice depends on your application. Once you know your application the debate goes away. The debate only exists when people presume erroneously that someone else’s needs mirror their own.
The question really is: What are you trying to accomplish when you take the photograph? Which do you like to work with?
In one of his posts, Chris Marquardt states that he has tested over 15 different cameras including different formats of both digital and film and admits that what he has learned has influenced his photography. The reasons he lists include aspect ratio, the focusing ability of the camera, the sound of the shutter, and the weight and size of the camera.
That all makes sense. Aspect ratio definitely influences how we see and view the world. The weight and size of the camera will determine how far off the beaten path we are willing to go for the image. The sound of the shutter may not be noticed in some situation, but will ruin the atmosphere in a scene in others. And the ability of a camera to focus can determine how quickly we can capture what we see and therefore determine what we shoot.
In a post on The Luminous Landscape, Charles Cramer discusses the quality of 4×5 inch film compared with a Phase One medium format digital back. He includes images showing quality comparisons. There is an obvious difference between the two, but in different ways. Film seems to have better resolution than digital, but digital has better color. Again, what are you looking for in a photograph?
With digital, you can shoot a lot without paying a any money for each image. If you use film, you pay for each exposure in film and development costs. On the flip side, digital requires a expensive software expenditure. If you buy a new camera, the current version of the software you are using may not support your model of camera. Digital cameras can become obsolete, while a film camera will continue to be viable as long as you have film.
Going back to Ken Rockwell’s statement, what are you trying to do with your photography? Once you have decided that, you can make the decision as to what medium you want to use.
The debate about digital vs. film will rage on, but remember, there is no right or wrong answer. There is a good, better, and best solution for you. Don’t let others tell you otherwise.